Hiring Sales Reps: How to Recognize Top Performing Sales Reps Before You Hire

When hiring sales reps, what qualities do you look for? Scott Barker asked this question recently on LinkedIn.

This is something that you’ll have to think about.

Scott had been a successful BDR himself, and knew what it took to be successful in that position.

“Intellectual curiosity & ridiculous grit. Those two things alone can make you successful in today’s world. Curiosity & work ethic mixed with a double serving of EQ can make you unstoppable.“

Scott is referring to emotional intelligence, which can be similar to IQ.

When recruiting for new top performing sales reps, most companies want to find someone with high emotional intelligence, ridiculous grit and intellectual curiosity. This is the traditional mindset.

But let’s be honest…

You won’t get a team of Kobe Bryant’s, but you will do well if your hiring process is diverse.

Too often, people hire based on the assumption that everyone they interview should be a superstar. This limits their search but also may not be realistic

After I became a salesperson, I realized that some people are motivated by money and others aren’t as much.

There will be a range of skill level on the team. You hope that most people fall in the middle half, with top 25% and bottom 25%.

top performing sales reps


When you’re building a new sales team or joining an existing one, not all the people will have that “machine-like” work ethic.

Some of my employees are better at understanding how Salesforce works and setting up integrations, while others have a knack for taking care of fires. All the same, not everyone is going to be good on every call.

The majority of the team will need coaching and practice to keep up, but only a quarter or less with be able to do it without any trouble.

If you’re playing by the numbers, with this mindset you should prioritize hiring people in the middle range. This will be your team.

Yes, you want everyone to be in the top 25%, but it’s just not realistic. You may also miss out on a dynamic pool of talent for other parts of your organization.

I think about SDRs in 4 different categories, and that is what I focus on during my interviews.

  • Future Leaders
  • Future Closers
  • Future writers for the Other Department
  • Flounders

I’m going to talk about how you can evaluate your current team for each of the future contributors, and what kind of qualities are important in applicants applying for a Sales Development Representative position.

Recruiters need to know what each candidate is looking for during the interview process, and it’s important that they don’t just see this as a one-way conversation. These tips will help them get more out of their interviews with potential employees.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

1. Leaders of the Future

These are the people who sacrifice their own work, sometimes doing it at home after hours, to help out peers. They’re always there for other employees when no one else is around.

If you’re thinking about promoting someone to a team lead, look for these people.

An SDR is tough to be in. If you have an employee who hits their metrics and also helps other teammates strategize or just cope, they are a natural leader.

If you’re interviewing someone who says they don’t want to be an AE, but instead wants to become a team lead, it might not be bad idea for them to prove themselves first.

I’m going to tell you the three golden rules for hiring salespeople. I’ll start with number one, which is…

I also posted a few times on LinkedIn about this concept, referencing Simon Sinek’s talk.

In the paleolithic era, 2.6 million years ago, humans were constantly in danger and had a short lifespan because of things like weather and saber-tooth tigers.

A culture of safety is created when a leader emerges. The leader sacrifices their own comfort to ensure the welfare and security of everyone in the tribe.

A modern workplace should be like a small group of humans trying to survive in the harsh world.

The future leaders are the ones who will take time to help new hires and make sure they’re productive. They also spend their own free time prospecting for work.

The natural leader will have a good understanding of the SDR’s daily functions and how they play into the bigger sales organization. They can guide and mentor newer members, too.

Here are some tips to get promoted into the sales management position.

When interviewing candidates, you might ask them to describe a time when they helped another employee. It’s also worth asking about how often the candidate covers for other employees.

When you come across a candidate who can’t stop telling stories, they’ll be the perfect person to organize team events. This doesn’t mean that they’re just trying to kiss up – this is someone with leadership potential.

If they can’t come up with a story, it doesn’t mean that this person won’t be successful at the company. They just might not end up as an SDR manager.

2. Future Closers

Top performing sales repscan be divided into two groups: those who are naturally talented and those that work hard to achieve their goals.

The naturals are in the top 25% and make it look easy. They shut everyone out on the floor effortlessly, which you can hear from anywhere on the sales floor because they have an undeniable rhythm with ease.

It’s like she is in a league of her own. Everyone else just seems to be lower than her.

Future closers will come up to the AE during a demo without being prompted by anyone. They’ll ask questions about the product in meetings, even though they don’t need that information.

The people who want to close will probably tell you they are aiming for a quota. They’ll be the type of person that would work under one, so it won’t really bother them.

Not all future closers are the same.

Some people want to close and show deep admiration for the closers, but they’re not there yet. That’s okay; everyone starts with different skills in different areas.

Sales skills are crucial for success in the field. The article provides a list of 30+ traits that could help you become an unstoppable salesperson.

The best future closers know how to self evaluate and take feedback. They welcome constructive criticism because it helps them grow.

They take responsibility and own their performance. They might even be harder on themselves than you are.

A top performer who is a future leader will have different priorities than one that’s just looking to close deals.

The top performing sales reps will have to focus on their own performance, but the leader of a team should instead try to make processes more efficient for everyone.

3. Future Contributors to More Departments

I call this group the Black Swans of your organization — these top performing sales reps are willing to do whatever is needed, even if it means dialing 100 numbers a day or being an SDR. They want any chance at working for you.

Often, there’s no direct path for them. They sign on and hope they can carve out a spot at some point in the future.

In this article, Barker talks about how it’s important to hire people with these qualities because they’re worth their weight in gold. He also says that you should find a spot for them no matter where they want to go.

Nathan Kryn from Planhat jumped in and said, “We want to make sure we hire diverse candidates.”

top performing sales reps


If a salesperson wants to go into customer service, they could be trained by the company.

If you’re not interested in a career as an SDR and want to move on, doing data operations might be the right choice for you. Some people actually enjoy looking at lists of numbers.

They find ways to automate their job in Salesforce and use the reports there. They may self-identify as being more analytical or numbers oriented.

There are a few steps to take when hiring for sales development. It’s important that you find the right people and let them do their job.

4. Flounderers

This group, the Flounderers, are ones who often quit after a few weeks or months. However…

It can be hard to tell the difference between someone who is struggling and needs help, or if they could do better elsewhere.

In the interview process, you may not be able to tell whether they’ll make a good salesperson or do well in another position within your company.

So what do you do?

I think it’s worth a shot. You might find someone who can contribute, and the experience they gain will give them an income-oriented mindset going into their next role.

There are a couple of mistakes SDRs should avoid making.

  • It’s hard to be successful in a company when there are no tools for you.
  • When it comes to performance, people often blame other things than their own skills and abilities.
  • The sales floor can be a very distracting place, with many interruptions and distractions.
  • To put others down
  • A lack of effort overall.

It’s usually pretty obvious if someone isn’t trying. You can tell how hard they are working by watching them closely or just asking other employees.

Getting better at sales is a lot like getting good at anything else: you need to put in the time and effort.


Albert Einstein wrote,

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

When hiring, you’ll be looking for people who are motivated and driven. But don’t forget about future leaders or contributors in other departments.

You need to figure out what everyone is best at and put them on that path.

One way to increase diversity in the workplace is with a better hiring process.

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Justin McGill
About Author: Justin McGill
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